Friday, September 26, 2008

Paddy Monaghan - street-fighting man

I think it's fair to say that I wasn't sure what to expect from our signing with Paddy Monaghan on Wednesday. When Paddy's PR guy first got in touch earlier in the Summer, my first instinct was "this really isn't our type of event". We don't stock many boxing books (Mailer's "The Fight" being one notable exception) or indeed any of the 'hard-bastard'-type autobiographies whose readers I felt this book initially might appeal to. But Paddy's entourage are nothing if not persistant, so - learning that Paddy was going to be in Abingdon on the 24th, and with our community head firmly screwed on - we suggested a book signing session linked to an ongoing fund-raising campaign by Abingdon Boxing Club.
I'm very glad that in this instance my instincts turned out to be dead wrong. Paddy Monaghan is an remarkable individual, and someone it was a privilege to welcome to the shop. Born in Co. Fermanagh in 1944, his family moved to Abingdon at a time when many Irish families travelled to England in search of work and better prospects for their family. They ended up in a tiny one-bedroomed flat in Abingdon. Paddy left school with no qualifications, unable to read or write. With few opportunities, a growing family to support, but someone who was handy with his fists, he became a legend in the sometimes brutal world of bare-knuckle (BKB) boxing. Paddy went on to be undefeated in 114 bouts - all the more remarkable for a man just over 11 stone.
(On Wednesday Paddy brought his middleweight BKB championship belt to the shop - priceless to him, it is officially worth somewhere in the region of $250,000 - and usually sits in a safe.) But it is his lifelong friendship with Muhammed Ali which is perhaps the most remarkable part of Paddy's story - that, and the fact that he taught himself to read and write. It's difficult to imagine, with Ali now one of the most revered sporting legends on the planet, that back in the late 60s he was reviled and worshipped in equal measure for his religion and avoidance of the draft (not to mention his less-than-humble attitude to his boxing prowess!). Paddy's one-man campaign in this country not only was appreciated by the great man, it is credited for coining the phrase "Ali - the people's champion", and Ali and Paddy - these two very different men - became, and still are, very close friends. When Ali used to turn up in his limo to see Paddy - in his council house in Saxton Road in the early 70s - the streets became thronged with kids, and photos surviving from that period (of Ali sparring and standing in Paddy's doorway) are amongst some of the most iconic taken of the heavyweight legend in this country. There are wonderful pictures from some of these visits in the book - and I think publisher John Blake deserve a lot of credit for the way Paddy's story has been put together. It goes without saying that I am personally very grateful for Paddy for coming along on Wednesday, being so generous with his time, and introducing me to this deep bond that Abingdon has - through Paddy - to one of the world's sporting icons. If you live in Abingdon, even if you wouldn't ordinarily read a book like this, I recommend popping into the shop and taking a look. Compelling, satisfying - and ultimately inspirational.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Utter madness

No, not the nationalisation of the US banking system, but rather the ever-so slightly ridiculous number of events that we've got coming up in the next two weeks. Having had a packed schedule over the Summer, we haven't done ourselves any favours by organising a load of events coming up in the next few weeks. But it's what we like to do - so we can hardly complain when they stack up like Heathrow on a Friday evening. Anyhoo, we've got some corking events coming up in the next few months (take a look at our events page for more details) but the next couple of weeks will be full, culminating in six events in two days next Wednesday/Thursday (which even by our standards is possibly overdoing it). Here goes. Everything kicks off tomorrow evening as Alison, Nicki and I put on our best bib and tucker and bowl up to the Natural History Museum for the Bookseller Retail Awards. We have been shortlisted for Children's Bookshop of the Year, and - like the British Book Industry Awards back in May - this is the first time we've ever been to these awards. Expect a full report after the event... It's the Gardners Trade Show this weekend in Warwick - and once we make it back from there next week begins in earnest. On Wednesday 24th September, we have our Wednesday morning bookgroup meeting at 10.30. Good luck to Ali who is taking over the group from Anu (who, I am delighted to report, had a bouncing baby girl - Marissa Joy - on 6th September - Mum and baby doing very well). From 3pm-5pm, there will be a signing by bare-knuckle boxing legend Paddy Monaghan. And if you are wondering why we have a bare-knuckle boxer signing copies of his memoirs in the shop (after all, it doesn't sound like one of our events), it might help to know that Paddy grew up in Abingdon, and famously used to host visits by his friend Muhammed Ali who visited his council house in Saxton Road in the 70s and 80s. To know how he got to know Ali, and why Ali visited so often - come meet the man and read his book... Wednesday evening we are hosting the book launch of Eliza Graham's novel Restitution, the follow-up to her successful debut novel Playing With The Moon. Like her first novel, Restitution is being published by Macmillan New Writing, and they have done a cracking job with the book design - I'm desperately carving out time to read it ahead of next Wednesday. I'm looking forward to meeting MNW's commissioning editor Will Atkins who will be there - and if anyone would like to come along to the launch, please get in touch quickly and let me know. That's Wednesday. On Thursday, samurai sword-wielding children's author Chris Bradford will be doing his martial art stuff at Larkmead School in front of the whole of year 7. Then at 4pm, we celebrate the launch of our after-school reading club when David Melling reads from his new book The Star-faced Crocodile. It's then our bookgroup in the evening. Throw in the odd storytime, a committee meeting and one Harvest Festival to attend at Alex's new school (just to get the old work-life balance sorted) and you can see it's a busy old time. But fun as always. (On another note, I've just returned from a fantastic evening spent with the WI up at Wootton, where they kindly let me waffle on about the bookshop for half an hour. As part of the evening, the ladies brought in old books to look at, with me awarding a prize for the most interesting. I awarded it for the original - get this - 1780 edition of Paradise Lost. Incredible to hold a book like that in your hands...without white gloves).